Just when I was beginning to think that 1) all common sense had vanished from the public square and 2) that our privacy was inevitably and eternally to be violated by government snoops, along comes Judge Illston to tell those government snoops to back off. She puts it much more nicely: “Order granting motion to set aside NSL letter”.
NSLs (National Security Letters) are those nasty Orwellian tools used by government snoops to mine personal private data on individuals without a court order as required under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. That’s the one, you remember, that has something to do with privacy:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The ruling followed a lawsuit by an internet provider (which name isn’t even allowed to be mentioned under the statute being challenged!) to protest not only an NSL on one of its customers, but also the requirement that the provider not being allowed to tell the individual that his privacy was being invaded. The FBI and others have been generously invading the privacy of individuals using NSLs ever since the Patriot Act revived them. In 2011 alone, some 16,000 NSLs were issued.
Matt Zimmerman, the lead counsel in the case for the unnamed plaintiff and senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was understandably pleased:
We are very pleased that the court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute. The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.
I like his word “truncated.” He’s got to be an attorney. I prefer the word “strangled.”
I’ll be taking a much deeper look into this ruling for The New American magazine on Monday. When it’s ready, I’ll publish it here for your further edification and enjoyment.